Basically I feel a lot of things. I love them more than I could have ever imagined I would but I have struggled for these past six months to try to put into words exactly the kind of love I have for them. It’s different from anything I’ve experienced before. It’s special.
So that’s what I’m going to try to do in this post. Give you some idea, some sense, of the immense joy I get from seeing these crazy, difficult, lovely, sweet, and energetic middle schoolers everyday. Brace yourself for extreme sentimentality, because that’s what I do best.
I can now see, on the smallest smallest scale, how a parent must feel about their child. Not in intensity, because only parents can give that, but that kind of unconditioned love. That kind of love when the moment one of my bad students tries in class, all is forgotten in an instant. I don’t care what they say, if they’re correct or not, I only care if they try. And in the moment that they try, my highest and lowest level students are all the same.
I feel a particular kind of defeat when I see a student pulling back. Retreating into an expression that’s, “too cool” for whatever the foreign teacher is going on about. But I see it every time. I see it and I try to speak slower, or catch their eye, or explain again. I would explain it a million times if they would just ask me to.
I feel proud when they try, especially when they try and are wrong. I am proud of the ones who answer all my questions and the ones whose confidence only extends as far as keeping eye contact with me.
I feel proud when the older boys boldly barge into my office and try to sweet talk me into giving them some of the French fries I’m eating. I feel proud when the little girls run up to me in a flock after school and ask me to sign a contract for their fake entertainment company. I feel proud in the office around the other teachers when a grade three girl comes up to me all flustered to tell me, just me, about how she met her favorite singer during vacation.
I felt proud in the convenience store when the lady working made eye contact with me over a small sea of middle schoolers all trying to ask me about what I was doing and what I was buying. I felt proud when she looked me in the eyes and said in Korean, “So cool.”
I feel it in my chest, so warm and pressing, and it makes its way up around the corners of my eyes until my cheeks get tired from smiling.
I feel it when I’m sitting in the office and I can hear their cheering on the soccer field drifting in through the open window.
I see how each one of them is so different, and special, and beautiful. I don’t speak their language, and I don’t know what they say or think about each other. So I don’t know their flaws or their struggles the way the other teachers do. I can see only their potential.
I want them to succeed in whatever they do so badly. I would give them my time, my help, my effort if ever they were to ask. I want them to see that English is fun, and that meeting people who are different from you is worth doing.
I don’t get to have a lot of meaningful conversations with them, but when I do I cherish those moments like treasures. I try to convey as fiercely as possible with as few words as possible how happy I am just to talk to them.
The older kids are so cool. They’re so funny and they act like little adults. They can joke with me the way that a peer would. They understand enough of the world to know that I’m a just a person. The boys are trying to work out how to be men. They try to be sweet to me in a language that isn’t theirs. The girls are beautiful. They’re trying so hard to be grown ups. I want to tell them that they are beautiful, they are special without doing anything, and that they are enough.
The younger kids are precious. They are so sweet and still mostly untarnished by the reality that this building, these classes, those numbers they receive, will all but define their lives for the foreseeable future. They care enough to try. The boys have more pure silliness and joy in their bodies than I have ever seen in my life. The girls are adorable. They can look at me with these big brown eyes in a way that I know I would do anything for them. I want to tell them they should never change. They should stay themselves, and not listen to what the world will tell them it means to be a woman.
I care about them so deeply, so much more than meeting once a week in a classroom of 35 other students would lead you to believe I could. So much more than the clinical description of my job in my contract. And even more than the dark circles under my eyes and the exhaustion in my voice would lead you to believe.
Sometimes I feel like I want to grab them by the shoulders and tell them to look me in the eyes and just listen to what I’m saying. I feel like if they just focused for more than 3 seconds put together they would realize that the sounds coming out of my mouth are actually words that I’m trying to use to reach their hearts and minds.
I love them more than I could have ever imagined. And even if I can’t describe it well, I have the incredible privilege of feeling it every day. I feel truly privileged to be their teacher. I hope that I never take that for granted and that I continue to look for new ways to explain to them how much I care, in words they will not just understand, but feel.
Sorry again for the cheesiness. Hope wherever this finds you you are happy and healthy. Thanks for reading!